With the current slide in the economy prompting questions on his legacy as the architect of economic reforms in India, Manmohan Singh, in his tenth and possibly the last Independence Day speech as Prime Minister, today invoked the late P V Narasimha Rao to explain the political push that was needed for reforms he kickstarted as Finance Minister in the Rao Cabinet.
It was the first time that he mentioned Rao’s name from the ramparts of the Red Fort even though his party hasn’t exactly been enthusiastic about the contribution of the second Prime Minister of the Congress from outside the Nehru-Gandhi family. Incidentally, even while recounting the “major changes” in the country every ten years, Singh cited the contributions of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Rao skipping any mention of Lal Bahadur Shastri.
“In the year 1991, under the leadership of Shri Narasimha Rao, we successfully negotiated a major economic crisis and embraced reforms for strengthening our economy. These reforms were opposed by many political parties at that time. But the reforms were in national interest and were therefore continued by all governments that came to power subsequently. Since then, the reform process has continually moved forward,” Singh said in his speech today.
His reference to Rao assumes significance given the way Singh finds his reforms initiatives stalled. In the 1,304 speeches that Singh has made since he took charge as Prime Minister, he has mentioned Rao — whom he calls his “friend, philosopher and guide” — only seven times.
His remarks today come a fortnight after he had said that reforms don’t happen just because there is a professional consensus. “They happen when the political leadership of the time decides to back these initiatives,” he had said at the release of the book, An Agenda for India’s Growth: Essays in Honour of P Chidambaram.
Stating how Rao’s leadership and support for reforms was “crucial” in 1990s, the PM had said, “In a democracy, reform — be it of economic policy or of institutions — is essentially a political process...Having a parliamentary majority alone is not enough, because there are differences within parties.”
In his speech today, Singh said that in no other decade had India’s economic development increased as much as in the last one. Saying that the current slowdown will “not last long”, he said that thanks to measures taken by the UPA, in the coming months,